Realistic Expectations for New York Knicks' 2017-18 Starting Lineup

Zach BuckleyNational NBA Featured ColumnistAugust 18, 2017

Realistic Expectations for New York Knicks' 2017-18 Starting Lineup

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    Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

    The 2017-18 New York Knicks should be able to see some light at the end of the tunnel.

    It just needs to bend around the polarizing figure that is Carmelo Anthony, then snake its way past the few other pricey veterans who remain on the roster to come fully into focus.

    But with a revamped front office (Phil Jackson out, Scott Perry in) and an intriguingalbeit unknowntop-10 pick added to the mix (Frank Ntilikina), there's a glimmer of hope in Gotham. Granted, it's not the type of hope likely to yield a 2018 postseason berth, but the potential dawning of a new era is refreshing nonetheless.

    The upcoming NBA campaign, then, stands to serve as a bridge to whatever lies ahead. Maybe that means making a move with Melo. Or perhaps it's a more subtle shift to get Kristaps Porzingis to the head of the table and the offense away from any geometrically based systems.

    Either way, change feels imminent. And from the middle of a four-year playoff drought, change looks awfully appealing.

    New York's starting five will be the first to feel that change. What follows is our best guesses at what lies ahead of Anthony, Porzingis, Ntilikina, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Willy Hernangomez in the newly formed opening quintet.

                 

    (Note: Until Carmelo Anthony is traded, we're making these predictions with the assumption he will be on the Knicks roster to begin the 2017-18 season).

Triangle Out, Early Offense In

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    No more Phil Jackson, no more triangular lessons. Knicks head coach Jeff Hornacek hasn't gone quite that far publicly, but he has at least conceded adjustments are oncoming.

    "We're going to work on different things and add things, find an offense that fits," Hornacek said, per Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News.

    So, what kind of system should the 'Bockers backers expect? Probably the one they were (optimistically) hoping to see when the skipper was hired.

    "One thing I do know is he wants to play as a fast-paced team, up tempo," Anthony told the NBPA's Jared Zwerling in May 2016. "You just look at the teams that he's coached in Phoenix, and how quickly they wanted to get up the court and play."

    The Knicks weren't sloths last season (15th in pace), but they slowed down to emphasize the antiquated attack after the All-Star break (12th in pace before, 21st after). And, to the surprise of no one beyond the Zen Master, they dragged down their offensive efficiency in the process (from 15th to 23rd).

    Even if they move forward with some triangle elements in play, an easy way to help themselves would be finding more easy baskets. Last season's group finished a forgettable 24th in fast-break points (10.9 per game).

    With a rookie point guard at the helm and 25-and-under starters all around Anthony, this quintet must prioritize playing with pace and seizing transition opportunities.

Kristaps Takes Control

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    The Zinger's summer began on an ominous note.

    The 7'3" unicorn skipped his exit interview with management "due to frustration over what he perceives as the dysfunction and drama surrounding the organization," sources told ESPN.com's Ian Begley. The frustration only increased when Jackson admitted he was "getting calls and...listening" to offers for 2015's No. 4 pick, per Begley.

    Had Porzingis been shipped out, poor decision-making and Jackson's damaged ego would have been to blame. But with the executive gone, New York has started coming to its senses and appreciating a player who last season—only his second in the league—became just the 12th player to record at least 1,000 points, 400 rebounds, 100 triples and 100 blocks in a single campaign.

    Whereas Jackson felt Porzingis wasn't ready to guide the Knicks, Hornacek has already extended the franchise keys to its rightful face.

    "That's his next step and growth as a player—be able to handle some of that," the coach said, per NBA.com's Fran Blinebury. "He's going to have to take that next step of just taking over. He's probably ready for that."

    After being tantalized by his talents for two years, the Knicks need to get a firmer grasp on what exactly they have in Porzingis. The locker room should be his, along with the bulk of the offensive touchesregardless what the future holds for Anthony.

Development Over Everything

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    Before the 2016-17 Knicks were drowned by dysfunction, they were drunk off delusions. Former point guard Derrick Rose dubbed their roster a superteamtwice.

    After three consecutive 50-loss seasons, though, New York no longer believes it can rush its rise to relevance. Even with some pricey veterans on hand, the organization's primary focus is progressing its prospects.

    "The focus is definitely on building around young guys," a team executive told Marc Berman of the New York Post.

    It's not just about unleashing Porzingis.

    It's entrusting the offense to Ntilikina and letting the French freshman find his footing. It's continuing to increase Hernangomez's exposure to see if he can build off his late-season success (11.5 points and 9.2 rebounds per game after the All-Star break). It's giving Hardaway the chance to show he's worth $71 million—or something in that zip code, at least.

    If the Knicks understand this is a developmental season, they can significantly brighten their outlook down the road. New York may not have a rich recent history of refining and retaining prospects, but the young building blocks might be in place to change that narrative.

Distractions in Droves

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    Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

    It wouldn't be a real Knicks season without soap-opera levels of drama, would it?

    Anthony might not be the brightest star above the Empire State anymore, but he's still at the center of the blue-and-orange circus.

    Last month, a deal to send him to Houston was reportedly "at the two-yard line," a source told Stefan Bondy and Frank Isola of the New York Daily News. A day later, ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne heard the Knicks were pausing trade talks. Now, the two teams are apparently talking again and searching for a third to facilitate the transaction, sources told Wojnarowski.

    It's a dizzying situation, and far from being the lone source of turmoil.

    While things seem better with Porzingis, Wojnarowski reported "there continues to be distance" between him and the team. Since losses are likely to pile up, it's unlikely trade rumors around the Latvian will completely disappear and additional reports of frustration would hardly be surprising.

    Ntilikina is the pick of a former executive and fits an offense the Knicks no longer run. A league source told Bleacher Report's Yaron Weitzman that Dennis Smith Jr., not the Frenchman, would have likely been the selection had Jackson not been around.

    Combine that information with Smith's scorching summer league play, and Ntilikina is shouldering an absurd amount of pressure to perform.

    It's a similar story for Hardaway, who enters the campaign under a $71 million spotlight. He could prove that to be money well spent, but his career average of 11.0 points and 13.2 player efficiency rating don't like his odds.

Per-Game Stat Predictions for Starting Five

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    Jason Miller/Getty Images

    Frank Ntilikina

    Points: 8.1
    Rebounds: 3.2
    Assists: 5.5
    Field-goal percentage: 42.2%
    Three-point percentage: 36.6%

                   

    Tim Hardaway Jr.

    Points: 15.8
    Rebounds: 3.0
    Assists: 2.6
    Field-goal percentage: 44.2%
    Three-point percentage: 36.4%

                     

    Carmelo Anthony

    Points: 21.3
    Rebounds: 5.5
    Assists: 3.0
    Field-goal percentage: 42.9%
    Three-point percentage: 34.8%

                      

    Kristaps Porzingis

    Points: 20.4
    Rebounds: 8.1
    Assists: 1.9
    Field-goal percentage: 44.6%
    Three-point percentage: 36.2%

                    

    Willy Hernangomez

    Points: 13.1
    Rebounds: 9.7
    Assists: 1.8
    Field-goal percentage: 53.5%

                      

    Unless otherwise indicated, all stats from Basketball Reference or NBA.com.

    Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @ZachBuckleyNBA.